Learning to Fly

By: Melissa Snark

Chapter One

Early Saturday morning, the landline rang as Cassandra Claeys was on her way out the door. For a split second, she considered letting it go to the answering machine because she was already late to meet friends at a coffee shop. However, the possibility of it being her new client, an architect from Los Lobos, California, made her hesitate.

Kyle McCleod. Although they had never met in person, she leapt at any opportunity to speak with him. She could listen to him all day for the simple pleasure of hearing him speak and never registered a word he’d said. The man had a voice like whiskey and blended cream—smooth, dulcet, just the hint of a brogue—alluding to Irish roots. He caressed her with that voice, caused her insides to turn to warm and gooey like the center of a truffle or a warm chocolate lava cake. His dialect marked him as American, but the way he spoke hinted at a touch of eastern Ireland, reminding her of the year she’d spent as a child in Dublin.

Cassie grabbed for the phone. “Hello?”

“Is this Cassandra Claeys?”

Cassie shifted her purse to her right shoulder to get a more comfortable grip on the receiver. “Yes, this is she. Who’s calling?”

“Ms. Claeys, this is Agent Riona Knoshoghi with the FBI.” The woman pronounced Cassie’s name with a distinct Japanese accent, rolling her Rs into a liquid consonant.

“Yes?” She clutched the phone, trying to stem a rising tide of anxiety. She did not receive calls from the Federal Bureau of Investigation every day, but she did live in constant dread of the event, hoping it would never come.

“I need to notify you that Simon Lynch is out of prison, ma’am.”

Her grip tightened on the phone and white noise filled her ears. Her breath came short and rapid, and pressure increased on her chest like a giant hand trying to crush her ribcage. On the verge of panic, Cassie’s mind went blank.

“Ms. Claeys? Are you still there?” Agent Knoshoghi attempted to gain her attention with increasing urgency.

Her lungs burned from lack of oxygen. Right before she passed out, her nostrils flared and she sucked down a great gulp of air. Her lightheadedness passed after a few seconds. The agent said her name again.

“I’m sorry. Yes, I’m here. Repeat that. Please,” Cassie said.

The agent paused before she spoke again. “Ma’am, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but Simon Lynch is out of prison.”

“How?” Cassie asked. This had to be a bad joke. Please let it be a bad joke.

“How?” The agent fell silent, trying to suss out her meaning.

“He had a life sentence. Several consecutive life sentences. Who the hell let him out?” Her voice grew more strident with each passing second. She sounded accusing, but right then she didn’t care.

The agent maintained her professional demeanor and made a cool reply. “Please calm down, Ms. Claeys, and I’ll explain. No one let him out. Lynch escaped.”

“How long ago did he escape?” Cassie shook from head to toe. Her knuckles were white on the receiver.

Papers rustled in the background. “Lynch disappeared from his cell at San Quentin sometime last night. He was last seen around nine o’clock at lockdown. During the morning head check, the guards found his cell empty.”

Cassie’s gaze flew to the digital clock over her oven. She performed a hasty mental calculation. “That’s what, twelve hours ago?”

“At the most. Please bear in mind that the prison is a maximum security facility, so it took time for him to circumvent the security. We called you as soon as he was discovered missing, Ms. Claeys. Now, I need to arrange for you to be brought into protective custody.”

Cassie’s lips formed a reply, but she never spoke. She slammed down the phone, cutting off whatever instructions Agent Knoshoghi might have offered. Her panicked gaze flew about her two bedroom townhome. Options fell through her mind in a terrified jumble. What to do? She had to get out; she had to run.

Who could she trust? Not the police who had already failed her more than once. Where should she go? Not her friends. She wouldn’t endanger people she cared about, and besides, Lynch would find her if she ran anywhere predictable.

Twelve hours…Lynch had a twelve hour lead on the authorities. There were less than twenty miles between San Quentin and San Francisco. He could be anywhere, even right outside her front door.